Lenny Kravitz: Black and White America

There’s no secret or mysterious concept hidden beneath the surface of Lenny Kravitz’s ninth studio album, Black and White America. His latest effort tackles issues associated with racism, reflecting upon how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go when it comes to society’s ongoing struggles with racial relations. Kravitz’s latest self-produced collection offers immense, sexy riffs aplenty, while frequently shifting moods and tempos. Throughout, the “Let Love Rule” singer waxes poetically about a future utopia when America will finally be free of racial tensions.

Kravitz effectively manages to create a multi-tempo  musical ebb and flow, efficaciously commanding your attention throughout the album’s lengthy 16-song track list. This is an arduous coup few artists are rarely capable of accomplishing. The 1970s-sounding title track includes an infectious groove, supplemented by strings, brass, and lots of funky bass riffs. “There is no division don’t you understand/The future looks as though it has come around/And maybe we are fighting for our common ground/We’ve waited so long,” Kravitz sings on repeat. Of course previous singles “Stand” and “Come On Get It” are included here, alongside the album’s most incongruent track “Boongie Drop,” which features DJ Military and rapping by Jay-Z. Although the latter starts off full of potential, the tune ultimately misses the mark of achieving true greatness.

Black and White America is a laudable musical statement, and a much needed reminder of how prodigious Kravitz is at melding together rock and funk.  Also worth mentioning is the bonus track “War,” which not only works well within the album’s concept, but is also one of Kravitz’s strongest performances in years.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Various Artists: Reggae’s Gone Country

Reggae's Gone Country

What happens when two very distinctive musical worlds collide? The answer is Reggae’s Gone Country. Imagine classic country songs such as Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” performed reggae style by some of Jamaica’s best vocalists and musicians. No, this isn’t Kenny Chesney’s latest album of Jimmy Buffet-like island music, but instead it’s a new collection of country standards delivered in a captivating and authentic reggae tribute.

Although the concept may initially sound like a musical recipe for things to go horribly awry, it actually works quite well. After all, commonalities of lost love and spirituality link reggae and country together lyrically. And believe it or not, country music is very popular in Jamaica, which is how and why this album’s concept came to fruition. Reggae’s Gone Country is a labor of love for Grammy nominated producer, VP Records executive, and country music buff Cristy Barber, best known for producing 2003’s successful Def Jamaica, a collection of assorted reggae flavored hip hop tunes.

The bulk of the album was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica’s Grafton and Tuff Gong recording studios by reggae producer Dean Fraser. The tracks were then sent to Nashville, where John Rich supervised flourishes of pedal steel and fiddle which were added into the final mix. The compilation includes standout performances by notable island vocalists Tarrus Riley, Tessanne Chin, Beres Hammond, Etana, and Romain Virgo, among several others.

While traditional country purists will most likely be unimpressed, open-minded, genre leaping music aficionados will be pleasantly surprised. Even if the thought of beloved country hits re-worked into reggae versions may seem absurd to some, the end result is an unexpected and highly satiating combination. Frankly, Reggae’s Gone Country’s reimagined Jamaican versions of George Strait’s “The Chair,” Alabama’s “Feels So Right,” and Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” make any locale feel like paradise.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC